April 6, 2017
Turning your dreams into profit by starting your own business can reward you financially and simultaneously help you fulfill your personal and professional goals. But before you can taste success you’ll have to put in the work. For women especially, the road to entrepreneurship is difficult and demanding – but luckily it’s also paved with the footsteps of those who have come before and can now offer you their support and encouragement.
For women with STEM skills and aspirations, choosing to become an entrepreneur in the tech sector may seem like the perfect fit. Unfortunately, women in this field are often at a significant disadvantage. Female-led startups in the tech industry have more trouble obtaining funding – receiving 50 percent less VC funding than their male counterparts – but still manage to generate, on average, a 35 percent higher return on investment (ROI) than companies led by men.
While you may be the sole proprietor, you really aren’t doing this entirely alone. Consider these statistics: a National Women’s Business Council annual report found that women start about 1,200 new businesses every day. Isn’t it amazing (and reassuring) to know that you’re not the only one facing these challenges?
No matter where you’re at in your entrepreneurial journey, there are women who can relate and have advice to offer. Three of their stories are below.
Alexandra Pierson is the founder of Springpop, a Philadelphia-based company that developed an app that compiles content geared toward specific readers’ interests. She has been running the company for more than two years, and said her success is due in part to her ability to not let the naysayers stop her.
“The truth is, being an entrepreneur means facing rejection almost every day, especially when you are first starting out,” Alexandra said. “Behind every success you hear about are thousands of hours of hard work and disappointment, so the key is never giving up and not letting setbacks stop you.”
If you’re currently trying to build a company, Alexandra said that it’s not all about doing everything yourself. “Sometimes entrepreneurs can feel like they can or need to do everything in the company at first, but I’m a strong believer in surrounding yourself with people who are better than you in some sort of capacity.”
This includes everyone from family and friends who think you’re doing something that you shouldn’t be to people in your industry who turn down your ideas. It’s important to truly believe in yourself, she said, and turn any problems or hurdles you face into motivators instead of roadblocks.
Beyond that, she said her “advice to women who want to be entrepreneurs is to never give up, and to develop a thick skin. If you believe in your product or service, then work hard. At some point, something has to give, and hard work always leads to something fruitful, whether it be lessons learned or success.”
There are a lot of challenges that come with starting a business and getting it off the ground, but money is usually number one. If you, as a business owner, can control your finances, you’ll have a better chance of being able to take your business to the next level. That’s just what Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of Cheekd, a geo-based dating app headquartered in New York City, found out after she launched the app in 2010.
Lori went from a 15-year career in architecture, where she was making a comfortable six-figure salary, to struggling to get her business funded. “The financial struggles have definitely been the most challenging aspect of my business,” Lori said.
So, to help get things off the ground, Lori decided to take her business to the Shark Tank investors. After being denied by all the Sharks, she received thousands of emails, app downloads and was even contacted by people interested in investing in her business.
“We’ve raised five times the amount I’d sought on the show, and I’ve gotten a CTO on board who’s helped facilitate and finance the new face and technology behind the new Cheekd,” Lori said.
While securing capital for your business is certainly important, Lori says the most important advice for any female entrepreneur is to fight for your dream.
“If you truly believe in your idea, give up excuses and doubt, surround yourself by a trusted and talented team, bulldoze forward and don’t look back,” she said.
In 2014, Chrissie Gorman and Mike Krzyzewski (yes, that one – the head coach of Duke University’s men’s basketball team) founded PowerForward, a leadership development platform based on Coach K’s strategies. And the biggest thing she learned was not to listen to everyone around her, but instead to trust her gut.
“My gut told me to follow my passion and leave my comfortable job to pursue PowerForward, which ended up working out,” Chrissie said. “If you are feeling apprehensive about something, it is important to at least think through why and assess whether your apprehension is worth listening to. It often is.”
Women are often instructed to go with facts and figures in business instead of their intuition, especially because the world – particularly the tech world – is so data driven. While this isn’t always a bad thing, it’s important to remember that not every business decision can come down to hard facts. Sometimes you simply need to follow your “gut” in leadership.
Beyond following her intuition, Chrissie also said that, while she was building a company by partnering with a big name in the sports world, she was nervous because there’s no guarantee that the support (both financial and emotional) will come in.
“I left a very comfortable consulting job to start PowerForward without a salary or a sense of how long it would be before I had a salary again,” Chrissie said. “I basically became an entrepreneur of myself during that time while also launching PowerForward.
Most entrepreneurs battle with funding their business, as you’ll note from some of the experiences the women leading their own tech ventures mentioned. As you work to build your new business, you’ll certainly have expenses to pay for, which can be challenging when you’re putting a lot of money into making your dream a reality.
One way that you may be able to help your budget in the process is by using cash back credit cards to pay for materials you may need, since you’ll reap a financial reward for your spending. Capital One offers the Quicksilver Cash Rewards card which may be a good option, as it does not have an annual fee and gives you unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases. You will also get a $100 sign-on bonus after you spend $500 on the card in the first three months after opening the account.
If you have larger purchases to make right off the bat, you may want to think about a card that has a larger sign-on bonus. The Chase Ink Cash business credit card is one that gives you $300 cash back if you spend $3,000 in three months, so it would be smart to figure out if that’s feasible for you or not. Otherwise, you’ll get 5 percent back on office supply purchases for the first year of having the card, which is pretty nice as you’re getting set up. These are just a couple potential card options – you’ll want to do your research before deciding to get new plastic.
Another option to help get your business some cash flow is taking out a small business loan. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers small business loan programs they act as a guarantor for, although none are particularly designed with women in mind. However, according to their website, “SBA loans are three to five times more likely to go to women than non-SBA loans.” Kabbage also offers small business loans that you may want to consider. You can use this guide to see if your business might qualify for a Kabbage loan.
If none of these options seem right for you or your business, perhaps you can look to crowdfunding sites or see if any of your friends or relatives would be interested in helping you fund your business. While this may be one of the easier routes to help you raise money, as you already have access to these people, it doesn’t come without risks. Make sure you document all the fine details of the money (Is this a loan you’re paying back and, if so, what are the terms? Is it a gift?) and any expectations either party has (Do they want part of the business? Do they want updates on a regular basis?). Getting all this outlined ahead of time will certainly pay off down the road.
There is definitely a lot to think about as you venture out on your own with a business. Luckily, as the advice above attests, there are plenty of reasons to stay motivated when the going gets tough. By getting involved with women who understand the challenges of tech and startup culture, you’ll have a team behind you to help bring your ideas to life.
Brooke Niemeyer is a reporter and editor for Credit.com. She writes about a variety of personal finance topics, with work featured on CBS, TIME, The Huffington Post, MSN, Yahoo! Finance, and others. She has a Master’s degree in Journalism from New York University and was a reporter for NBC before joining the Credit.com team. You can follow her @RNYBrooke.